Saturday, June 22, 2024

“WHAT YOU WISH FOR”

THE STORY – A down-on-his-luck chef assumes the identity of an old culinary friend who’s a private chef for the wealthy. As the motives of his mysterious clients become clear, he desperately tries to find a way out.

THE CAST – Nick Stahl, Brian Groh, Tamsin Topolski & Randy Vasquez

THE TEAM – Nicholas Tomnay (Director/Writer)

THE RUNNING TIME – 101 Minutes


“Be careful what you wish for,” the old saying goes. “You just might get it.” Pointed advice, but humans so rarely follow it. Take Ryan (Nick Stahl) as an example. In over his head with gambling debts, the chef has taken a forced vacation to South America to meet up with old friend Jack (Brian Groh). Ryan finds Jack in the veritable lap of luxury, resulting from his work with an exclusive high-end catering company. Ryan finds himself longing for Jack’s life, if only so that he could have the money to pay off his debts. When he wakes up one morning to find that Jack hung himself from the ceiling, Ryan does what any desperate person in that situation would do: He hides the body and assumes Jack’s identity. While Ryan waits for his fake IDs to arrive, Jack’s employers arrive at the house to prepare for their next event. Having never met Jack in person, they assume that Ryan is Jack and tasked him with making the necessary preparations for the meal. It takes Ryan some time to realize it, but he’s gone from the frying pan straight into the fire, and his moral fiber will be tested as he cooks the most important meal of his life.

Writer/Director Nicholas Tomnay’s “What You Wish For” reveals a corker of a premise once we learn the true nature of Jack’s job. However, instead of heightening the absurdity or danger of Ryan’s predicament, Tomnay does the opposite, maintaining a steady, even-handed tone throughout. Keeping a premise this outré on an even keel is no easy feat, but Tomnay’s blandly understated style saps the film of any sense of fun or suspense. This makes for a frustrating watch. The premise is intriguing, and Nick Stahl makes Ryan a compelling protagonist, but the spark needed to light the film’s fire just doesn’t come, trapping the audience in a catch-22: You want to see how Ryan copes with the situation (and hopefully overcomes it), but in order to do so you have to watch a film with no personality, filmed so sedately that even genuine surprises pass by without much excitement.

Saying much more would spoil the best that “What You Wish For” has to offer, but suffice it to say there comes a point where the plot takes a sharp left turn into exploitation territory that would have been much better served by a filmmaker willing to lean into the plot’s florid excess rather than away from it. Tomnay has the right idea about exploring serious themes through genre conventions. The problem is that the film’s biggest reveal puts it squarely in the horror genre, and Tomnay seems convinced he’s written a noir. Thus, lots of shadows, a too-smart-for-their-own-good police antagonist, and a focus on the morality of Ryan’s actions, but an almost complete lack of the rising tension and soul-curdling dread that would accompany the situation. Not that these attributes are entirely missing from the screenplay, but Tomnay does nothing to heighten them or even to bring them to the forefront. As Ryan’s position becomes more precarious, as outside forces come closer to unmasking his secrets, there’s no sense of increasing desperation or even dread. Tomnay has exerted too much control over the look and feel of the film, carefully calibrating each image to look perfect while forgetting to imbue those images with the emotions that turn a perfectly composed picture into a memorable one.

Nothing here is terrible, at least not on its face. Cinematographer Mateo Guzmán shoots with a keen eye for the house’s sleek surfaces that serve as the main location. When combined with Jeff Russo and Tracie Turnbull’s score, the cinematography lends an intoxicating, slightly mysterious atmosphere that goes a long way toward keeping the audience invested. Individual sequences are edited well, although the film could have used a quicker pace, especially in the first half. Unfortunately, though, the problem with “What You Wish For” isn’t that it’s poorly made. It’s that it’s tedious. The mechanics of the plot are intriguing enough to get an audience in the door, but the execution isn’t exciting enough for them to have a good time.

THE RECAP

THE GOOD - Nick Stahl gives a likable, compelling performance as a chef with gambling debts suddenly in way over his head.

THE BAD - Filmed so sedately, even its disturbing, WTF-worthy premise barely registers as dramatic.

THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - None

THE FINAL SCORE - 3/10

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Dan Bayer
Dan Bayer
Performer since birth, tap dancer since the age of 10. Life-long book, film and theatre lover.

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<b>THE GOOD - </b>Nick Stahl gives a likable, compelling performance as a chef with gambling debts suddenly in way over his head.<br><br> <b>THE BAD - </b>Filmed so sedately, even its disturbing, WTF-worthy premise barely registers as dramatic.<br><br> <b>THE OSCAR PROSPECTS - </b>None<br><br> <b>THE FINAL SCORE - </b>3/10<br><br>"WHAT YOU WISH FOR"